Management Watch

Busting 6 common myths about your career

You’ve probably heard them all: Climb the career ladder as fast as you can. You’re too important to get laid off. Do what you love and the money will follow.

Such maxims permeate both the private and public sectors, even though they're rarely correct. In a new book, Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, author, consultant and workforce guru Alexandra Levit outlines some of the most common misconceptions that people perpetuate in the guise of career advice.

Levit took some time between her engagements to talk to "Management Watch" and explain why many career myths are more fable than fact.

Myth #1: Employers want you to be yourself. “While employers do appreciate people’s individuality, the truth is that it’s very important and necessary, especially for federal employees, to assimilate into the culture they're now a part of,” Levit said. “They shouldn’t do things that will necessarily rock the boat or go into a government organization telling them — God forbid — how things were done in the private sector because these things will not be appreciated. What you need to do is look at the culture and do [your] best to fit in and then try to make your mark, one small step at a time.”

Myth #2: Being good at your job trumps everything. “Unfortunately, you can sit in your office and churn out work products like there’s no tomorrow, but if your work is not visible, then it doesn’t matter,” Levit said. “You have to make sure the right people know about your accomplishments, that you’re able to summarize them succinctly in a way that’s meaningful to the people you’re talking to. If you’re talking to a higher-up, you want to talk in terms of profitability or productivity or something that can be measured. You always have to be tying your job responsibilities to the bottom line of your organization. In that way, that will be sort of a universal language you’re speaking."

Myth #3: It’s best to climb the ladder as fast as possible. “There are some people who get promoted quickly, and that’s a good pace for them and they’re ready for the promotion when it comes,” Levit said. “But there are other people, especially in this new generation of 20-somethings, [who] sometimes get in a little over their heads. There’s nothing wrong with getting promoted, but you just want to take a step back and really assess if this is a move that is good for you. For government workers, this is something that can be done fairly easily because the responsibilities they are going to follow are made very public, and what they'll be doing is very, very clear. Take that to heart and ask yourself if this is going to be something you’ll be happy doing — and successful doing.”

Myth #4: The problem isn’t you, it’s the organization. “Government employees may say, ‘Gosh, the government is so slow. If only I could work in the private sector, things would be much more efficient.’ Well, you know what? The grass is always greener,” Levit said. “I find people job-jumping all the time, going from private to government from government to private because they think that it’s the environment when in fact it’s [them]. You make a lot of the same mistakes and do a lot of the same behaviors over and over again, so what I’m recommending to people is that they look at themselves. Look for a pattern of behaviors, whether it’s in previous performance reviews or feedback you’ve gotten from a mentor. What are some of the things you’ve experienced over and over again? And how can you make a course direction midway instead of expecting everyone else to change?”

Myth #5: You’re too important to get laid off. “Unfortunately, layoffs don’t discriminate,” Levit said. “I think that’s one of the harder lessons we’ve learned as a result of the recession. People who thought they were untouchable all of a sudden face a different reality. Even if you’re a star performer in your group, maybe your group isn’t profitable. Maybe the organization has to make uniform cuts. It just happens that way, and sometimes there’s no other reason. You've got to be prepared for that kind of outcome and be on the lookout and watch for it. If you perceive yourself as indispensable, then you’re going to have a target on your back.”

And the most common myth among the federal workforce, according to Levit: You’ll get more money because you earned it. “There are certain ways compensation is given out in government, and sometimes it has absolutely nothing to do with you or your performance or the department you’re in,” Levit said. “There are many, many variables at play, and you need to educate yourself on what those variables are. You need to talk with [the human resources department] about how compensation is given out, you need to talk to mentors and other people who worked in the same organization for a while so you’re not surprised when the review comes out and it doesn’t have the result that you thought. Especially in this climate, sometimes you’re not going to get a good result, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect negatively on you.”

Posted on Oct 05, 2011 at 12:19 PM1 comments

Readers' reactions: Why napping at work is A-OK

If federal employees can play cards, smoke or read during their breaks, why aren’t they allowed to nap? That was the question some readers asked when commenting on my recent blog post on whether Census employees caught napping at work were simply overworked. 

“I don't see the problem of an employee taking a nap during their lunch hour,” Joseph Copsey commented. “Some employees go out for a smoke. Some play cards. Some read a book. How is a nap any different?”

A fellow reader agreed with Joseph and questioned why napping isn’t acceptable when smoke breaks are: 

“I know someone who works at the Census HQ,” commented the reader. “These naps were occurring during employee breaks. So it’s not OK to close your eyes for 15 minutes during a designated break, but there is no problem with going outside half a dozen times a day for a smoke?”

Another reader pointed to other parts of the world where napping is a common practice and mentioned the benefits of a midday snooze.

“In the hotter countries around the Mediterranean, they take a siesta, midday, and nap, since it's too hot anyway,” that reader wrote. “This means they have the energy to work later and stay up late. One hears of ‘power naps.’ ... The model of always being ‘on’ is very exhausting, and a major reason for stress in this country.”

Napping should be allowed, especially in times when the federal workforce is shrinking but the expectations of the end results stay the same, a reader said.

“Federal employees are people too and definitely not overpaid, like the private" sector, that reader said. “A nap is in order while on a break. If arrangements can be made for smokers, which harms the health of humans, then provisions of a nap should be allowed to help federal employees be more rejuvenated and productive.”

Another reader who said he/she was a Census worker offered several reasons as to why his/her colleagues were napping during the day.

“I've been known to fall asleep at work,” that reader commented. “I'm normally sleep deprived and I'm not as young as I used to be. The critical factor is boredom. In spite of my efforts to improve my work situation, I'm often bored and sleep is a normal reaction. Give me interesting work and I'll be alert.”

One reader agreed with the suggestion that feds are overworked and cited also traffic congestion and politicians as reasons why employees are taking naps.

“Are feds not getting enough sleep?” the reader asked. “Yes, with the terrible commuting problem in the D.C. area, people have to head in by 6 a.m. to avoid traffic, or spend 1.5 hrs commuting. I am one of them.  ... Congress needs to resolve the budget by sacrificing programs, not people. Local politicians and Congress need to work together to fund transportation projects (including raising gas taxes) to resolve the traffic problems. I put the blame for sleeping feds squarely on the politicians. It is the end result of bad politics.”

Very few commenters so far have outright disagreed with allowing employees to nap during the day, but one did say, "If they are sleeping on the job, they should not be taking taxpayer tax dollars for it. Get rid of them." 

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Oct 03, 2011 at 12:19 PM12 comments

Napping Census workers: Are feds simply overworked?

It certainly didn’t do much for the already tarnished perception of government employees when a memo from the Census Bureau urging workers to stop sleeping during work hours in public areas of the office became the focus in The Post’s Federal Eye blog.

According to Federal Eye’s Ed O’Keefe, the memo came from the bureau’s HR director Ted A. Johnson, directed at employees at the agency's Maryland headquarters.

“Sleeping on the premises is not acceptable behavior,” Johnson wrote in the memo. “It is manifestly unprofessional and creates an impression of carelessness, which unfairly impugns the hard work of the entire Census community. Moreover, such behavior can lead to safety problems in the event of an emergency.”

A Census spokesman later confirmed that “a handful” of Census workers had recently been found napping in the proximity of the agency’s Suitland Federal Center location.

While some Post readers were quick to jump to conclusions about the dozers as lazy, others expressed their irritation over how this memo even made the news, one reader asking, “Why does this article sensationalize the story from an internal Census memo intended for employees and contractors working for the Census Bureau?”

Other readers brought up the advantages of afternoon shuteye, and one said it’s too bad most offices don’t have a designated place where “people can [nap] without everyone worried about unprofessionalism or a gas leak or something.”

While we all have stories about coworkers, bosses or former college professors falling asleep on the job, very few question why it actually happens. In this case, could it be that feds are just overworked? Do they have too big of a workload? Or are some Census employees just not getting enough rest before coming to work? What do you readers think?

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 29, 2011 at 12:19 PM15 comments

NSF unveils plan to spur workplace flexibility, STEM careers

The National Science Foundation has taken another step toward a more flexible workplace in an initiative that also encourages women’s advancement and interest in careers in science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM.

White House officials announced the NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative, which gives researchers more flexibility in the workplace, on Sept. 26. The plan also helps remove some of the hurdles to women’s advancement and retention in STEM careers.

Under the 10-year plan, researchers will be able to delay or suspend their grants for up to one year to take care of young children or fulfill other family responsibilities. STEM researchers who review their peers' grant proposals will also be able to conduct virtual reviews rather than travel to a designated location.

NSF has workplace flexibility policies in place, but this will be the first time a plan is applied across the foundation to help postdoctoral fellows and early-career faculty members more easily care for dependents while continuing their careers, according to a statement from the White House.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and chairwoman of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Tina Tchen, the council’s executive director, said a lack of work/life balance prevents many employees from reaching their economic potential.

“Today, nearly two-thirds of American families with children are headed by two working parents or by a single parent,” they said. “These parents cannot thrive in a job where they are unable to care for their children. At a time when working men and women across our nation face deep economic uncertainty, it is wrong to ask them to choose between their jobs and their families.”

The NSF announcement also highlights how flexible workplaces contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness, Jarrett and Tchen wrote.

“There is a common misconception that workplace flexibility policies cost businesses money,” they said. In fact, the opposite is true. A study from the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that flexible workplaces often attract the best workers and experience reduced absenteeism, lower turnover and higher productivity.

“As President Obama has said, ‘Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses,’” Jarrett and Tchen wrote.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 28, 2011 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Kundra's plan: Good. Practicality: Not so much

In the wake of former federal CIO Vivek Kundra’s exit for the private sector, many have pondered his legacy and what the future holds for his 25-point IT reform plan. Now, a new survey suggests that while federal IT professionals may agree with Kundra’s key priorities, many worry about the hurdles that surround cloud computing, data center consolidation and cybersecurity.

MeriTalk polled 174 federal IT professionals Aug. 23, 2011 to learn what they think of the current state of federal IT. The report,  “Over to You, Mr. VanRoekel ...  A Federal IT Referendum on Change,” reveals that many feds express concern about  timing, funding and directives for cloud, data center consolidation and cybersecurity.

Only 29 percent of respondents said they are following Kundra’s cloud-first policy, and 42 percent said they have adopted a “wait-and-see” approach to the cloud. Security issues, cultural issues and budget constraints are some of the obstacles to cloud computing, respondents said.

Nearly all of surveyed feds also support data center consolidation, although 70 percent say federal agencies won’t be able to shutter the mandated 800 data centers by 2015. Some respondents were uncertain as to whether any data centers at all will be eliminated, with 10 percent saying there will actually be more of them in 2015.

Regarding cybersecurity, all of the respondents said web threats have increased over the last year. Respondents said the most important priorities for cybersecurity should be securing federal networks (68 percent), critical infrastructure protection (56 percent), and privacy protection (36 percent). However, funding to meet these priorities is, on average, 41 percent short, respondents said.

Asked about the most important focus areas for the new federal CIO, Steven VanRoekel, 60 percent of respondents chose reducing the number of mandates and deconflict as the No. 1 priority. Fifty-three percent said VanRoekel should reassess goals to make success achievable, and 46 percent said he should listen to feedback from IT professionals.

Respondents also said VanRoekel should have “realistic goals, no fancy technology terms, be business focused” and “continue to push IT beyond its comfort zone, focus on outcomes.”

There's more coverage of the report at Washington Technology.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 26, 2011 at 12:19 PM0 comments

Could eagerness hurt your career?

Conventional wisdom says that you should always be on the lookout for career opportunities and chances to advance. But could showing  eagerness actually hurt you in the end? Sterling Whitehead’s Sept. 20 blog post on GovLoop suggests just that. Instead of moving on to the next big thing, employees should take the time to enjoy their current careers, he writes. 

Whitehead's advice is: Enjoy the moment, appreciate the opportunities you have to accomplish things where you are and don't try to move on before you’re ready, he writes. 

“People are often promoted up to the level of their competence then can't go any higher,” he writes. “You may be able to reduce the odds of this happening to you by achieving the level of competence needed before moving on. Even if you are offered a position, it may not be the best move at that time. You may just be setting yourself up for failure.”

In this case, "don't be too eager to move on" is good advice, Whitehead says. Your eagerness and ambition could be your downfall; taking the time to learn, enjoying your job and then advancing could be your best bet.

“That's not to say ambition is always a bad thing — like most things in life, ambition is a double-edged sword,” Whitehead writes. “If you can wield it properly, you have a career weapon in your career arsenal. If not, it'll cut you.”

Blog readers were quick to chime in on Whitehead’s blog, most of them agreeing that refraining from jumping at every opportunity is sound advice.

“Whenever I see discussions in which people say they are 'looking for new challenges,' I generally tilt my head to the side, quizzically, like the RCA Victor dog,” Mark Hammer wrote. “My response is generally that, as a mature adult, I don't need challenges. I'm certainly up to them, but I know who I am, where my strengths and weaknesses lie, and what I can do, and don't need to prove anything to anyone or to myself. If another job, initiative or task needs me more than my present one does, so be it, I'll be there to serve. But I don't need that job for me.”

Another reader, Kati Knowles, said she could relate to always being eager. 

“Good advice! I'm still so early on in my career and am incredibly eager,” she wrote. “I have to constantly remind myself that timing is everything and everything happens when it is supposed to happen. Moment of zen for the day :)”

A third reader agreed with the previous posters and said always thinking about that next big opportunity could mean you’re missing out.

“I like to think of this as being present,” Jessica Strugibenetti commented. “If you're constantly in a hurry to get to the 'next big thing' before you're ready, you might miss out on some really wonderful moments both personally and professionally.”

FCW readers, what do you think? Could being too eager hurt you in the long run? Or is it better to chase every chance to move up?  

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 23, 2011 at 12:19 PM9 comments

Millennials in the digital workplace

Some may call it the Me Generation -- a cohort used to instant gratification after being coddled by “helicopter parents.” But more important, the millennials are known as a generation raised with cell phones and social media at their fingertips. With more millennials entering the digital workplace, supervisors need to change how they manage and think about work, according to new research.

A new report based on surveys and interviews with 400 millennials (those born in the 1980s and later) and IT managers in the private sector examines how this younger generation uses technology and how it communicates and learns in the workplace.

When encountering technical problems at work, millennials tend to search for answers online – in forums or via search engines. They don’t turn to social networks to find solutions because “millennials aren’t broadcasting their problems to the world,” the report states.

The surveyed millennials also tend to seek out alternative avenues to solving problems, not “because they are oblivious or dismissive of company procedures” but because they want to be self-sufficient and are comfortable with search and social media.

These are good signs for IT departments, the report states, because use of in-house support materials could encourage millennials’ desire to learn about and solve minor technical problems.

The survey also found that many millennials telework, which means IT operations must be prepared to support all these devices 24/7 or “otherwise they risk losing valuable employee productivity.”

“Or — and this might be worse — IT risks leaving service and support in the hands of the user, who may add to the problem or go to resources outside the company for help,” the report states.

Forty percent of millennials use a mobile device for work on a weekly basis, and nearly one-third said they use a mobile device for work on a daily basis. Forty percent of those millennials who didn’t have a mobile device provided by work said they were interested in using their personal device to access company resources.

The report notes that while some of the stereotypes may be true (“little impatient and used to getting a lot of attention”), millennials “probably don’t compartmentalize work and life as much as their critics would suggest.”

To handle millennial communications expectations and problem-solving preferences, the report suggests the following:

  • Respond quickly and educate employees: Because of their impatience, a quick response via email, chat or text message could assure millennials that their tech problem is being taken care of.
  • Encourage self-sufficiency: The survey suggests that millennials aren’t spoiled, but rather they value self-sufficiency and want to help. “Searchable self-help solutions should be effective for simple problems,” the report states. 
  • Implement social media tools: Rather than being designed as tech support, tools such as and Yammer are more about collaborative idea sharing or content and workflow management. “And unless they’re implemented with alerts and logging procedures, they may not actually result in fast responses or active 'conversations,’” the report notes.
  • Provide choices to Facebook and Twitter: To prevent too much company talk on public networks, "it makes sense to evaluate how private social networks could be implemented into a tech support scheme," the report states.

Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 21, 2011 at 12:19 PM2 comments